ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P61)
Chaos beyond transition: making sense of space and time in post-socialist cities
Location Palatine - PCL053
Date and Start Time 07 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Maria Salaru (University of Oxford) email
  • Michał Murawski (SSEES ) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel follows the thin line between change and continuity in the material environment in post-socialist cities. We invite papers which shed light on the spaces and times of urban change, illuminating the strengths as well as limitations contained in concepts of 'chaos' and 'transition'.

Long Abstract

The fall of socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe brought about a rapid and momentous change of political regime. The unfolding landscapes of post-socialist cities do not merely mirror 'transition' - they are themselves eloquent and multi-layered materialisations and enactments of change, as well as of continuity. This panel proposes to critically examine temporalities and horizons of change in post-socialist cities. What happened to the time-space of socialism after the fall, when the 'chronometer of history' (Yampolsky 1995) was switched on? Did the eternal urban cosmos of socialism simply disintegrate into the wild capitalist chaos of 'everything fixed going up in smoke' (Marx and Engels 1967)?

This panel takes chaos as the starting point for its investigation of the temporalities and horizons of change in post-socialist cities. Do post-socialist cities retain any vestiges of socialism's attempts to master the volatility of space and time? What might be learned from these reductions?

Landscape, as a social process, reflects and constitutes "depictions of rapid change in the apparent stability of place" (Berdahl 2000). Landscapes are morphed according to contradictory uses of collective memories, while suggesting new futures. This panel follows the thin line between change and continuity in the material environment. We aim at critically understanding not only the qualities of the built environment, but also the new inequalities and stratifications, which accompany material reconfigurations. We invite papers which shed light on the spaces and times of urban change, illuminating the strengths and limitations contained in concepts of 'transition'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Emerging from carbon ashes? The making and remaking of a Silesian urban centre

Author: Magdalena Buchczyk (University of Bristol)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores a controversy over the recent rebuilding of the city centre in Katowice, a Polish coal mining city. The contradictions surrounding the changes shed light on the complex relationship between transition and continuity in relation to production of space, identity and place-making.

Long Abstract

This paper explores a controversy over the recent rebuilding of the city centre in Katowice, a Polish coal mining city. The architecture of Katowice's city centre has received a material and symbolic inscription of its turbulent history. Established in the nineteenth century, Katowice has been subject to numerous reconfigurations in its urban form. In the 1970s, Katowice was rebuilt as a blueprint of socialist planning. In the 1990s, from a socialist ideal, the centre became a problem case study, rendered as chaotic and disorderly.

This paper pays attention to the current reconfiguration of the city's urban centre. Ongoing reconstructions aim to restore order, remake Katowice's reputation and enhance its metropolitan vision. Following recent controversies surrounding the rebuilding of the focal points in the city, including the railway station, the town square and the surrounding cityscape, I intend to explore the multi-layered nature of Katowice's urban fabric. I illustrate that current rebuilding initiatives are embedded in a sequence of future visions, linked to the construction of a Silesian identity within a modern, industrial society. Focusing on the social life of these changes, I argue that the contradictions related to the planned reshaping of the city complicate widely held assumptions about the nature of post-socialist transformation. Rather, they reveal multiple layers of reconstruction, negotiated future visions and different levels of residents' participation in these processes. I show that the production of the city centre sheds light on the complex relationship between transition and continuity in relation to identity and place-making.

A tale of two tall buildings: architecture, aesthetics and time in post-socialist Warsaw and Moscow

Author: Michał Murawski (SSEES )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between socialism, post-socialism, urban aesthetics and shifting temporalities by reference to the cases of two Stalin-era 'tall buildings', or vysotkas: Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science and Moscow's (unbuilt) Zaryadye Administrative Building.

Long Abstract

The idea of the city dominated by a soaring landmark or a grand epicentre - whether a sacred temple or a secular monument - was allegedly buried along with utopian high modernity, sometime during the second half of the 20th century. The new urban age taking shape in its place, say politicians, planners and scholars, will be humbler, periphery-oriented, non-linear, ephemeral: winding desire paths and brownfield eco-cities instead of monumental axes and skyscraper forests; pop-up innovation hubs rather than palaces of culture; Stolpersteine and ghost bikes in place of equestrian heroes and eternal monoliths. But is this tendency towards the crooked, peripheral and impermanent really as absolute, inevitable - and desirable - as all that? How do the aesthetic and temporal manifestations of this centrifugal urban tendency relate to political and economic ones? Which forms of centrality (and monumentality, and permanence) have 21st century cities inherited from their modern (and ancient) predecessors, and which ones have been invented anew? Which forms have become obsolete, fallen into ruin, or become re-invented, re-purposed and appropriated for new uses and imaginaries? This papers explores these questions with reference to the the cases of two Stalin-era 'tall buildings', or vysotkas: Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science and Moscow's (unbuilt) Zaryadye Administrative Building.

Socialist residential environment in transition: spatial practices and urban restructuring in post-socialist Kyiv

Author: Igor Tyshchenko (National university of "Kyiv-Mohyla academy")  email

Short Abstract

To conceptualize the spatial dimensions of urban transition in particular late socialist residential district, we analyze how cultural infrastructure was sacrificed in favor of new housing and how changed the perception and image of the urban space among various social groups of its residents.

Long Abstract

Post-socialist Kyiv is experiencing great social and spatial transformations. In the conditions of uneven development of the different parts of the city, late soviet residential districts on the urban periphery however experience visible spatial decline and became targets for new commercial developments, such as shopping malls and high rise residential building.

The specificity of 'Vynogradar' district is that it was not finished properly during soviet time - its main public and recreational spaces, including cultural complex and pedestrian thoroughfares were not built. Neglected for decades, now some of these voids in the district fabric became parking lots, dumps, street markets, while other were built up with new, unplanned previously housing. This means not only that Vynogradar could not be finished according to the initial master plan, but also that new housing and therefore new residents exceed capacity of the district social infrastructure, causing further decline of public space and overcrowding of public amenities..

Our paper is the case study of the social and spatial dimensions of urban transition in this former socialist residential district. By studying plans and soviet planning norms, we analyze how cultural infrastructure was sacrificed in favor of new housing and what outcomes did it call now, after the collapse of USSR. We study the perception and image of the district among various social groups of its residents, both old tenants and newcomers (in-depth interviews), in order to conceptualize and describe the change in social practices of production of space and time in former socialist residential district.

'Gentle' transformations: change and continuity in the Romanian built environment

Author: Maria Salaru (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

In my paper, I aim at disentangling the thread of material and social transformations of the Romanian post-socialist landscape.

Long Abstract

Anthropologist Katherine Verdery (1999) noted powerful processes of "reconfiguring space": "Raising and tearing down [socialist] statues gives new values to space (re-signifies it), just as does renaming streets and buildings" (Verdery 1999, pp.39-40). In my paper, I will argue that this process of remaking urban space and landscape under post-socialism is not as comprehensive as is sometimes portrayed in the literature (Light and Young 2010). I will build on ongoing anthropological debates about (post-)socialism, but my aim is to disentangle the thread of material and social transformations of the Romanian post-socialist landscape, while being wary of exaggerations on the degree of transformation. While some changes are quick and easy to achieve and have a high symbolic impact - such as pulling down statues or renaming streets and buildings - other changes are much more difficult to make. Based on a long-term ethnography inside a block of flats in Piatra-Neamt in Romania, I will argue that landscapes are also changed from within. I will particularly focus on Polystyrene insulation processes, an energy saving measure that was implemented chaotically and thus turned the city into a puzzle of colour and texture. In this context, landscape can be viewed as a social process, reflecting and constituting depictions of rapid change in the apparent stability of place (Berdahl 2000, p.6).

Disruption and stability in the everyday leisure of a small Chinese city

Author: Paul Kendall (University of Westminster)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to extend the discussion of post-socialist cities beyond Europe through consideration of urban China. It explores the disruptive influence of the contemporary Chinese cityscape on the everyday, and the stability imbued upon this everyday by place names from the socialist era.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I seek to extend the discussion of post-socialist cities beyond Central and Eastern Europe through consideration of urban China. I elaborate on one of the panel's overarching questions to ask: what has happened to the time-space of socialism in a country where there was no acknowledged fall of socialism, and in a contemporary era whose very designation ("post-socialist", "post-Mao", "reform") is a matter of contestation?

I address this question by exploring how the rapidly changing cityscape of contemporary China disrupts everyday leisure practices, and how these practices are given a certain spatial stability by place names which derive from the socialist era. Focusing on the specifics of everyday music-making in the small city of Kaili, I describe how music groups in the city have frequently had to relocate their activity in the face of a constantly shifting built environment. I then utilize Kevin Lynch's (1960) concept of the city image to argue that everyday life must have stable spatial reference points in order to be coherent and navigable. In Kaili, these stable spatial references points included place names which derived not only from contemporary schools and squares, but also from the long-demolished or relocated institutions and landmarks of the Mao era. Most notably, the numbered monikers of once secretive, military factories continued to feature and resonate in the everyday conversations of the city, as contemporary designators of urban neighbourhoods.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.